Last week's recall of 1 million Infantino baby slings following three infant suffocation deaths may have some parents questioning whether baby-wearing is safe.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall March 24 after receiving reports of three babies suffocating in the slings in 2009. The "bag-style" fabric carriers were sold from January 2003 to March 2010 at all the major baby stores and discount department stores.
The announcement came on the heels of a broad warning issued by the commission on baby slings, saying they posed a potential suffocation risk.
Elisa Barcalow of Steubenville properly wears 3-month-old Salvatore during a jaunt at the beach.
The recalled Infantino SlingRider bag-style sling
The recalled Infantino Wendy Bellisimo bag-style sling
But baby-wearing and breastfeeding experts say the practice not only can be done safely, but it also makes for happier, healthier babies.
"Babies are born with the desire for touch, warmth and closeness. Slings give parents the opportunity to provide that much-needed nurturing with the convenience of being hands-free," said Elisa Barcalow, a registered nurse in Steubenville and certified attachment parenting instructor who has "worn" all three of her children. "With the proper knowledge and understanding of the baby sling, we can all go on 'slinging' our babies happily."
First and foremost, according to Barcalow and baby-wearing advocate Diana Rosenfield of Clearwater, Fla., the bag-style sling is a no-no because it can cause a baby to curve into a C position and can slump the baby's head forward, blocking its airway. It also does not tightly wrap the baby close to the wearer, which means the baby is free to move into a position that places its nose and mouth against the fabric, making it difficult to breathe. Very young babies do not have the muscle development to then free their heads.
- Avoid placing baby in a C-like position. This can push his chin to his chest and cause suffocation.
- Airway should be clear and open. Check baby's position often to make sure that his chin is not touching his chest.
- The safest position for wearing a young baby is tummy-to-tummy and upright.
- Avoid baby carriers in which baby is intended to be in the C-like position (such as those similar to the recalled bag or pouch slings).
- For infants, the baby carrier should fully support his bottom, back and neck.
- For older babies worn with the legs out, the baby carrier should support from the back of the knees to his shoulders.
- Baby should be visible to you while worn
- Never cook with the baby in the sling as this could cause severe burns to child.
Source: Elisa Barcalow, R.N., B.S.N. and certified attachment parenting instructor, of Steubenville
"You don't want the baby deep in a pouch, and you don't want her hidden from you," said Rosenfield in a phone interview.
A wrap-style sling - Rosenfield has used several brands with her two children - allows the wearer to "cradle" the baby tightly in an upright diagonal position without covering its face. Wraps and other types of baby-wearing harnesses also can be used to hold babies upright in a tummy-to-tummy or heart-to-heart position, or on the wearer's hip or back.
Barcalow uses a ring sling, such as the Over-the-Shoulder Baby Holder. Ring slings are made of a long wide piece of fabric that is attached to a pair of sturdy rings. Ring slings are adjustable to fit around the wearer and the baby and can be worn in five different positions, she said.
"All slings are not created equal," said Dr. Arthur Eidelman, vice president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in a statement made after the commission's initial warning. Ring slings, he continued, carry infants in an upright position snug with the parent's chest, thereby protecting the infant's airway.
Barcalow began using a sling six years ago after her first son, Vincent, had colic. Wearing him eliminated his colic symptoms. She still uses a sling with her other two sons, Salvatore, 3, and Franco, 15 months.
Barbara Nicholson, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Attachment Parenting International, lists baby-wearing under the "nurturing touch" category, one of her "eight proven parenting principles for raising connected and compassionate children" as described in her book, "Attached at the Heart."
"Carrying, or babywearing using a soft carrier, meets a baby's need for physical contact, comfort, security, stimulation and movement, all of which encourage neurological development," she writes.
Slings also allow caregivers to "have baby in arms more comfortably for longer periods of time," Barcalow said, and gives them more freedom and mobility.
Infantino President Jack Vresics told the Associated Press that the company has been working closely with the commission on its sling concerns.
"Our top priority is the safety of infants whose parents and caregivers use our products," Vresics said in a statement.
The recalled Infantino models include the SlingRider and the Wendy Bellissimo slings. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends consumers stop using the recalled slings immediately. Consumers can call Infantino at 866-860-1361 for a free replacement product -their choice of a Wrap & Tie infant carrier, a 2 in 1 Shopping Cart Cover or a 3 in 1 Grow & Play Activity Gym.